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Alice: Madness Returns – McGee on retracing Goth roots

Monday, 23 May 2011 07:04 GMT By Brenna Hillier

It’s been a decade since American McGee’s Alice brought Goth culture to gaming, but “dark” has since become standard. Can Madness Returns compete with today’s preoccupation with grit?

Alice: Madness Returns

Headed up by legendary ex-id Software dev American McGee.

Art direction by Adelaide-native Ken Wong.

Sequel to 2000′s American McGee’s Alice.

Due on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in mid June.

Ships with a download code for the original game.

Official site.

In 2000, the Gothic culture building since the 1980s was arguably at its peak: just mainstream enough to be affordable but still cliquey enough to feel special, shedding its punk associations. In 2011, the dark underground has all but been subsumed into alt-rock, punk, emo – perhaps even scene-kid and hipster. Skulls, crossbones and OTT hairstyles are everywhere, but the feeling’s not the same, American McGee agreed with VG247 on Friday.

“I think from the moment that we made the first game, there was a whole scene that was much more vibrant – you know, Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails,” the famed designer noted.

“I’ve actually read a bit on the transformation of that culture after nine-eleven, because at some point people were like, ‘Well, I’m just not fucking dark enough.’ You sort of had to give it up.

“But I think we’ve seen the sort of Victorian Gothic elements still remain – that’s a much more art and fashion-focussed version of the idea, right? I think as it applies to our game. There’s still an audience out there; there’s still aspects of the product they can appreciate.”

Art director Ken Wong adds that Spicy Horse isn’t interested in catering to a lucrative demographic with cash to burn on hot pink skull hoodies.

“I don’t think we’re making the product for any hip scene that’s going on,” he says.

“We’re going back to the roots of Victorian culture, where all that fetish and cool stuff comes from. We took inspiration from Gothic architecture, from fashion at the time, from surrealist artists, so I like to think that what we’re gonna offer sort of has an eternal appeal.”

In fact, this time around, the dark heart of the game beats harder – and smarter.

“The art aspect the Gothic part of the game this time around is much better informed,” McGee says.

“I dunno if I’d say it was a one-note dark [in the first game], but it wasn’t as varied as what we’ve produced this time around with Ken and his team really putting their minds to a lot of different elements of the Gothic, and the Victorian culture from the era.”

Quick Q&A with American 1

Have you thought about releasing any of your research and source material, a lá L.A. Noire’s interactive crime map?
“There’s a really beautiful book of art that Dark Horse has put out, that contains all of the work that Ken and his guys did, and a lot of the thoughts they were having about those pieces while they were making them.”

Certainly there was no conscious decision to incorporate inspiration from current fashion in the design, for example.

“It’s all of the period. One of the things we adhered to while working on the game was this concept was that anything you saw in Wonderland had to be the natural product of Alice’s imagination, which meant that the character of Alice need to have been exposed to that idea, that image or that experience in her real life,” McGee stresses.

“So we went back and researched music and literature and opera, news of the day, to make sure that we had a sense of the things she would have been immersed in, so that when we produced the fantastic [or] surreal elements of Wonderland, they could have a natural source.”

Nevertheless, enough time has passed that some of the gamers playing Madness Returns won’t remember the days when frock coats and fob watches walked the streets independent of doom, gloom, and other things ending with “oom” and on sale in all major retailers. Wong says Spicy Horse weren’t concerned about Madness Returns possibly being given the same labels as shadowsoft.

“I don’t think we were really thinking about how people would see us compared to like, Twilight or anything. We were working hard at making the most fun, visually appealing, awesome Alice game that we could,” he says.

“For me it’s as simple as that. Personally I see this in a different category,” McGee chimes in. “There are all sorts of different shades, right? I wouldn’t put this in the same book as something like Twilight for instance.

“I think Alice, in the first game, created a branch in that story’s fiction, and the character’s narrative, and one that’s quite viable and just like the original books, will live on. And this is an extension of that.

“As we see it, every generation spends some time to retell the tales from the past, and this us retelling the retelling of one of these tales, and I think it’ll live on despite whatever else is going on around it.”

The next folklore to receive Spicy Horse’s attention is one it has already explored through its mobile division, Spicy Pony. Akaneiro, a retelling of Red Riding Hood set in Feudal Japan, was released as an iPad storybook.

“Got a kinda dark Japanese spiritual twist to it,” McGee says. “We’re currently looking at adapting that into a PC online and mobile online game.”

Red Riding Hood is a popular subject for dark re-interpretation, but McGee seems unfazed, commenting that he enjoyed Belgian indie developer Tale of Taler’s take on the story: The Path.

“Yeah, it’s great. Yeah, I really love the guys that are working on that,” he says.

“I’ve talked to them many times and I find their exploration of the medium to be really inspirational.”

Quick Q&A with American 2

Where do your sympathies lie in the debate on Lewis Carroll’s relationship with the real Alice Liddell?
“That, I don’t know, and we’re not qualified to comment on.”

What’s your favourite weapon?
“The obvious answer is the Vorpal Blade, because that’s her signature weapon.”

On the recent film – directed by Twilight lead Catherine Hardwicke and a similar product of the Mills-and-fangs school of dark fantasy – he is less enthusiastic.

“I don’t know that I would consider Twilight Gothic,” McGee protests.

“Have you seen the trailer for that Red Riding Hood film? I don’t know that I would consider that… There’s an episode of South Park that made me laugh because there was a whole Twilight thing taking over the school, and the Goth kids – the original Goth kids – were getting quite upset because they were being categorised as emo and Twilighters, so they had to go and destroy Hot Topic, the source of all evil.

“There’s categories within categories. I don’t think that what we’re working on will be hurt by that, and I also don’t think that the people who watch those movies will be turned off by our Alice and maybe some of our fans cross over and like the Twilight stuff.”

McGee was quick to reiterate that the market for shadowsoft had no effect on Madness Return’s development.

“Did we pander to or change our vision to try to adapt to whatever’s going with stuff like Twilight? No. Not in any way.”

Wonderland and the real world

Madness Return’s intro movie..

McGee is confident enough in the distinctiveness of his vision of Alice that he’d be keen to see a long-delayed film version come to light, describing the possibility of an adaptation as “fantastic”.

“We’d be really happy to see someone bring it into film or TV. In some ways the film project in some ways continues to live on, there are producers in Hollywood who are actively trying to see it made. Hollywood sometimes moves slowly. We’ll wait and see,” he says.

In fact, Spicy Horse incorporated a number of cinematic tricks in the development of Madness Returns. McGee lists his favourite derived character as the Red Queen, but praises the team’s work on the Carpenter.

“His performance in the game is fantastic – his lines are great, the acting of them, the movements in the game are great – and that’s all a function of the guy who animated him and did the motion capture for him.

“So that guy’s skills, his ability as an actor and an animator really show through.”

But is the wider world of media ready for McGee’s Alice, which features a less-than-subtle depiction of mental illness in a culture increasingly wary of loaded political questions on care and agency?

“You know, when we’re building these games, we’re using the concept of losing your mind as an edge. The terror, right?” McGee says.

“It’s difficult to be sensitive when in fact, this is the bludgeon that we’re using to create terror for Alice and for the audience.

“At the same time, there’s this concept of her having a strength about her that allows her to overcome that fear, that terror. If anything, there’s a message in there for peopler who are looking for one. Here’s a witty, intelligent and strong woman who’s able to fight past those demons.”

“We could go on making these games for the next 30 years”

Asked if there was anything left of the Carroll mythos to explore, both McGee and Wong seems to feel there was plenty of scope for more Alice games.

“We took a lot of stuff from the [Alice] books that couldn’t really make it into the game,” Wong says, giving the Lion and the Unicorn as an example that didn’t make the cut.

“We didn’t get the opportunity to really make it in the game, but we think that could have been something really amazing. That would be my favourite one.”

McGee seems to have his sights set higher.

“For me, the concept of Wonderland is this playground of the imagination. We could go on making these games for the next 30 years.

“The technology is always going to be playing catch-up with what you can imagine her being able to do. I think if we ever get the chance to make another one, it’ll just be, once again, trying to push the boundaries of the surreal or the strange actions that she can play out in the world.”

Alice: Madness Returns ships on June 16 for PC, PS3 and 360.

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8 Comments

  1. Patrick Garratt

    If my new PC doesn’t turn up today I’m going to have a cry. I’m going to play this on it.

    #1 4 years ago
  2. Edo

    #1 As you should,cause this game looks insane.

    #2 4 years ago
  3. kupocake

    Miyamoto is a “legendary designer”.

    American McGee was the third or fourth biggest name at an important developer. Not even Jon Romero attempted to cling to his celebrity as long as McGee. And the notion that we owe Alice for gothic culture in games is just comical. ID’s output is still drenched in that shit, as was all shooting circa 1997.

    #3 4 years ago
  4. Gurdil

    Wow I was really scared there! I’m really looking forward to playing this game and the beginning of the post had me thinking ‘oh boy you shouldn’t read that kind of stuff when you’re excited about a game!” The whole first part about Gothic is just terrible! WTF does it mean to see Goth everywhere when there isn’t and to mix everything?!? Fortunately, I didn’t stop reading and understood that McGee actually gets those differences when he started talking about the south park episode and how Twilight is in no way gothic. I’m no goth, nor emo, nor hipster, nor any shit like that but oh boy am I annoyed by all these misleading and just plain bad comparisons.

    That being said, I can’t wait for my Alice copy to be delivered! :D

    #4 4 years ago
  5. cheesy

    crazy game, just preordered cant wait to play it

    #5 4 years ago
  6. Moonwalker1982

    What i’ve seen so far (intro movies,gameplay movies,etc) it looks to be very cool. Very dark and twisted, i actually might simply buy this one in june. If the combat is good, and if there are no real downers, i’ll get it. The atmosphere is awesome.

    #6 4 years ago
  7. tenthousandgothsonacid

    That’s not bloody goth !

    [Goes back to his Fields of the Nephilm albums]

    #7 4 years ago
  8. OrbitMonkey

    “oh my goth!” Said the startled snake….

    #8 4 years ago

Comments are now closed on this article.

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    CD Projekt RED has announced the news we’ve all been waiting to hear: The Witcher 3 has gone gold. This means Geralt’s latest, and possibly last, adventure has been sent to the factory to be pressed into lovely gaming discs. “We worked so damn hard over the past three years to bring you this game,” […]

  • Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is a “couple weeks out from beta,” new trailer

    Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is just a “couple of weeks out from beta,” according to development studio The Chinese Room, and a release date will be announced “shortly.” To give you an idea of how development has been coming along since it was announced at gamescom 2013, the team has released a new trailer […]

  • GTA 5 on PC looks incredible, but I can’t recommend it to console players

    As much as Matt Martin loves GTA 5, he can’t recommend upgrading from console to PC just for a slick editing suite and even prettier graphics. “This is the third time in as many years that I’ve bought GTA 5.” I have a Grand Theft Auto 5 obsession, as I’m sure you know if you’ve […]

  • The Forest engine updated to Unity 5, major graphical and gameplay improvements made

    The Forest’s latest patch added substantial improvements to the game. The Forest version 0.16 is now live on Steam with plenty of new additions. The game has been ported over to Unity engine version 5. The plant and skin shaders have been replaced or rewritten. Many other visual tweaks have been made, such as model […]

  • Star Wars: Battlefront banner leaks from Star Wars Convention

    EA has been setting up the Battlefront booth at Star Wars Celebration, and one leaked picture shows what could be the game’s main art. Someone on Reddit posted a picture of the game banner at EA’s booth. Here it is: Lots of things happening here. There’s a Star Destroyer in the distance, TIE Fighters and […]

  • Get GTA 5 working with Oculus Rift using this tool

    There’s a way you can play GTA 5 in VR if you own an Oculus Rift Dev Kit and have a bit of cash to spare. VorpX, the go-to program for adding VR support to games has received an update recently to support GTA 5. This is far from perfect, as it only translates the […]

  • FIFA Ultimate Team: week of April 15 team revealed

    This week’s Team of the Week is now available for anyone to challenge in FIFA Ultimate Team. The team members get selected each week based on their performance during the weekend matches. You can fire up FIFA Ultimate Team on any platform and challenge this squad. You’ll also find some Team of the Week items […]

  • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided will let you stealth all encounters, including bosses

    Deus Ex: Mankind Divided will bring back one of the original game’s major features. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is considered by many to be a great game and worthy of bearing the franchise name. One of its grating issues though was its boss fights. You only had one way to fight them: be confrontational. The […]

  • Project Cars PC specs and supported wheels announced

    The release date of Project Cars is inching ever closer and more details have been revealed to answer all your burning questions. Project Cars developer Slightly Mad Studios has revealed the full list of supported steering wheels on all platforms, as well as the minimum and recommended PC specs. Minimum specs CPU – 2.66 GHz […]

  • GTA 5 gets custom FOV mod on PC

    Those not satisfied with GTA 5′s built-in field of view slider can use a new mod to push the number even further. The PC versions of GTA 5 – just like its PS4 and Xbox One counterparts – lets you switch between third and first-person view in shooting and driving. The game has an FOV […]

  • Win! GTA 5 on PC!

    Want to win a Steam key for Grand Theft Auto 5 on PC? Just enter here. GTA 5 released on PC this week and is going down a storm. We like it a lot, which is why we’re giving away a Steam code for Rockstar’s latest. All you need to do is enter your email […]

  • GTA 5 topples Skyrim’s record for highest concurrent players on Steam

    Not factoring in Valve games, GTA 5 is the new king of concurrent player numbers on Steam. GTA 5 is very popular on PC, even more popular than games like Skyrim in its heyday. The number of concurrent players for GTA 5 has peaked today at 301,246. This makes it the only non-Valve game to […]

  • Mortal Kombat X: what does a modern fighting game look like?

    Mortal Kombat continues to evolve as NetherRealm adds RPG systems and daily challenges to a solid fighting game, says Sherif Saed. “Mortal Kombat X takes many cues from games like Destiny, Call of Duty, and GTA Online with hourly, daily and weekly events.” For as many of its familiar facets, Mortal Kombat X has enough […]

  • J-Stars Victory VS+ coming west in June – new trailer

    J-Stars Victory VS+ will make the jump (see what I did there) to the west after all. J-Stars Victory VS+ is the western title for the fighting game which stars characters from a variety of Shonen Jump-published manga. Bandai Namco has announced the fighter will release in Europe on June 26 and in the Americas […]

  • Codemasters F1 license good through 2016

    Codemasters has at least one more F1 game in it. F1 2015 isn’t out yet, so Codemasters is naturally not talking about what it might get up to in the future. We do know what it can get up to, though; Codemasters’ Steven Embling told Videogamer has the option to continue the series. “We have […]

  • Project Cars has pretty deep graphics options on consoles

    Project Cars offers players a wide variety of ways to customise their graphic settings on PS4 and Xbox One. Project Cars is a graphics showcase and all early indications suggest it’s going to be one of the best-looking games out there. Slightly Mad’s commitment to graphics seems to go deeper than making things pretty, though: […]

  • Super Smash Bros. patch nerfs Diddy Kong – report

    Super Smash Bros. 3DS and Wii U is great but Diddy Kong is a beast and must be stopped. The latest Super Smash Bros. 3Ds and Wii U patch seems to have nerfed Diddy Kong, a character so over-powered that serious tournament players generate controversy by choosing to use him. Nintendo doesn’t publish patch notes, […]

  • Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel developer shuttered

    Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel developer 2K Australia has been closed down. Kotaku broke the news, and also had word from an anonymous source, who said that all staff have been let go. 2K responded to our request for comment with the following statement: We can confirm we have taken steps to begin the studio closure process […]

  • Samorost 3 trailer shows Amanita still in fine form

    Samorost 3 looks as delicately beautiful as its siblings. Samarost 3 developer Amanita Design has a reputation for gorgeous, slightly surreal world building. This new trailer for its latest adventure looks just as if not more lovely than the previous Samarost games and Botanicula. Samarost 3 is coming to Mac and PC later this year, […]

  • Amnesia dev’s new project SOMA now in beta

    SOMA is nearly here and I am torn between excitement and horrified dread. SOMA is the latest horror project from Frictional, the team behind Amnesia: The Dark Descent. We’re pretty excited to see what Frictional comes up with next, and we won’t have too long to wait, apparently; the developer has announced that SOMA is […]

  • Steam Guard mobile authenticator now in beta testing

    Steam is now testing its latest security measure. Steam helps you protect your account by offering two-factor authentication, a solution so beautifully elegant and effective that it’s astounding every gaming network doesn’t do the same (looking at you, Sony). Valve’s version is called Steam Guard, and it works via email. This isn’t always super convenient, […]

  • Godzilla battles Mothra in new trailer

    Godzilla lets you stomp around cities and battle classic kaiju. I’m in. Godzilla is coming to PlayStation 3 and PS4 in early July, but we haven’t seen a great deal of it since its December reveal. The new trailer below gives you an idea of just what Natsume has done with one of the biggest […]

  • Tales of Zestiria to launch this year – new trailer

    Tales of Zestiria continues Bandai Namco’s delightful new habit of bringing the popular JRPG series to the west before the shine wears off. Tales of Zestiria is coming west in northern autumn, the publisher has announced. That’s not a bad turnaround, given it first hit Japan in January, and localisation of text-heavy titles is expensive […]

  • Project Cars release date locked down, new trailer released

    Project Cars finally has a release date. Project Cars will release on May 8, Bandai Namco UK has announced. We haven’t yet had an update from Namco Bandai’s other regional offices, but its probably safe to bet the racer will release around the same time in the Americas, Europe and ANZ region. We can now […]

  • Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains trailer shows combat, online multiplayer

    Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains has plenty to offer fans of the anime. Previously known as Attack on Titan: The Last Wings of Mankind, the Spike Chunsoft action game is coming west thanks to Atlus. Gematsu reports it’s due in both Europe and North America in May, via the 3DS eShop. The trailer below […]

  • Bloodborne stamina recovery rate affected by equip weight

    Bloodborne players have unearthed an important gameplay detail not mentioned in the game’s menus or manual. In Bloodborne, players need to manage their stamina carefully for best results. A far more aggressively-tuned affair than past Souls games, Bloodborne does away with equip weight limits, and items have no listed weight details. As far as players […]

  • Street Fighter’s Ryu, Fire Emblem’s Roy spotted in Super Smash Bros. patch – rumour

    Street Fighter’s Ryu is rumoured for future Super Smash bros DLC following datamining of the latest patch. Super Smash Bros. 3DS and Wii U were updated recently, and hacker shinyquagsire23 claims to have found some interesting files while poking around in the 3DS patch data. As detailed on Reddit, the audio files included a new […]

  • Suikoden 3 PEGI rating suggests PS2 Classic re-release

    Suikoden. Suikoden 2. And now: Suikoden 3. Suikoden 3 has been rated by PEGI for PlayStation 3, presumably ahead of an upcoming re-release. Gematsu turned up the rating, and although we have no further information at this time, it’s not much a leap to assume the RPG will turn up as a PS2 Classic on […]

  • Star Wars Battlefront gameplay reveal to be streamed live, new Instagram tease

    The Star Wars Battlefront gameplay reveal will be live-streamed during a panel hosted by EA as part of the Star Wars Celebration festivities this Friday. This is according to an announcement from Verizon and Disney courtesy of MP1ST. The main stream for the event kicks off at 10am PDT/1pm EDT on Thursday, April 16. It […]

  • GameStop to launch retro game and console trade-in experiment

    GameStop wants to get into the retro game and console business, providing it’s a worthwhile endeavor. To test the possibility, it will soon allow customers in Birmingham, Alabama and New York City to trade-in classic consoles and games in-store. Speaking with IGN, a spokesperson for the company said the initiative will kick off on April […]

  • Battlefield Hardline’s first patch addresses five priority issues requested by the community

    Battlefield Hardline’s first patch is in the works, and today, Visceral Games has added Punkbuster and Nvidia DirectX driver fixes to the list of issues to be addressed. Miscellaneous fixes for “the most frequent crashes” will be included in the patch, as well as the following “top five priority” issues voiced by the community. Punkbuster […]

  • GTA 5 user videos: Franklin’s exploits, a traffic jam tickle our funny bone

    Since GTA 5 was released on PC this week, the amount of videos being created with the new editing tools are releasing at a quick rate. Below, are three in particular I found amusing. The first one is from James McVinnie, originally posted on Reddit, showing what occurs after he happens upon vehicles in a […]

  • Invisible Inc. is coming to PS4 and has left Steam Early Access

    Invisible Inc., from Don’t Starve developers Klei Entertainment, has been announced for PlayStation 4 and the game has also a release date on PC. The game has now left Steam Early Access and will arrive on PC May 12. Per a post from studio founder Jamie Cheng on the PS Blog, the game will contain […]

  • Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Ascendance DLC dated for PC and PlayStation

    The Ascendance DLC pack for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare now has a release date for PC, PlayStation 3 and PS4. It contains four new maps, the OHM 2-in-1 directed energy light machine gun, the OHM Werewolf custom variant, and the new Exo Grapple ability and playlist. The Infection episode of the exo Zombies saga […]

  • Killing Floor 2 PC specs and Digital Deluxe Edition contents announced by Tripwire

    A Digital Deluxe Edition for Killing Floor 2 along with PC specs for the title have been announced, along with the new of a Steam Early Access launch later this month. According to Tripwire Interactive, the Digital Deluxe Edition will run you $39.99/£26.99/€36.99 starting on April 21 on Steam. This edition contains the following additions […]

  • Content in Wolfenstein: The Old Blood tips its hat to Return to Castle Wolfenstein

    Wolfenstein: The Old Blood, the standalone prequel to last year’s Wolfenstein: The New Order, will contain a few nods to the franchise classic Return to Castle Wolfenstein, according to the developers. According to developer MachineGames, the setting works “well with the pulp B-movie thing we’re going for,” and created a prequel instead of DLC for […]

  • Bloodborne is the latest to receive the Honest Game Trailers treatment

    Smosh Games has released another entry in its Honest Game Trailers series, and this time, it’s poking Bloodborne. According to the trailer, the game is “more disturbing” than the scene in South Park: The Stick of Truth where you are “crushed by your own Dad’s balls.” It also has more “stupid top hats than a […]